Ronnie Earl – Spread the Love (CD review)

Ronnie Earl – Spread the Love (Stony Plain Records) – CD review –

This is the greatest guitar instrumental CD I’ve heard in years. 

Most non-vocal albums are rather narcissistic, with a “look how fast I can play” attitude throughout.  What immediately sets Spread the Love apart from the others is how altruistic it sounds: there is real passion coming from the strings of Ronnie Earls’ guitar, and it’s apparent in the way these tracks come across.

Another trick commonly used in this environment is genre-hopping; without a vocalist to anchor things, some guitarists will do a country song, then a reggae song, then a blues song, just to try and mix things up.  Spread the Love is a cohesive record, all based around the blues genre, but there’s enough variety, both in his playing and the presentation of the songs, to make for enjoyable repeated listening. The album opens with the blues-rocker “Backstroke,” but immediately segues into the sparse “Blues For Dr. Donna,” featuring only Earl and a stand-up bass.  “Happy” begins with  some funky strumming along with the Hammond organ.  When he does come in to solo, it’s understated, reminiscent of the gentle side of Duane Allman.

Other places, his guitar playing is quite voice-like, as in “Miracle,” where he makes his axe cry — you feel tears rolling off the headstock, while “Eleventh Step to Heaven” is Earl just playing some beautiful chords with no soloing at all.  The disc closes with the all-acoustic “Blues For Bill,” so closely miked that you can hear the guitarist breathing between phrases.    The great thing about this disc is that it can serve two purposes: as an instrumental disc, it’s great background music, perfect for playing during dinner.  Yet, you can crank it up and pay attention and be thoroughly entertained as well. –Tony Peters